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    4. Photosynthesis and Technology

    Table of Contents


    When thinking about the energy consumption of our civilization we come to realize that almost all of our needs are met by fossil fuels. It is increasingly evident that the widespread use of fossil fuels poses a serious pollution problem. However, the real limit of the use of fossil fuels is their availability. It is clear that our energy sources will eventually have to change, probably in the direction of some sort of nuclear fusion (nuclear fission, having its own pollution problems). Fusion is actually the energy-generating process of our sun, which we can hope to emulate by using terrestrial matter. Eventually, however, it may become necessary to harness the sun fusion 'power plant' itself in order to meet the energy needs of our civilization. Ultimately even that may not suffice, and as far as fusion energy goes, the ultimate challenge would be to harness the tremendous fusion reactor available in the heart of our own galaxy.

    To a certain extent, it is possible to demonstrate a relationship between a civilization's overall technological development and the quality of its energy sources-such that the transition from one level of energy utilization to the next results from further technological advances of the civilization.


    One of the concerns accompanying technological development is the effect that it has on humanity. Technology in and of itself is for the most part neutral, capable of serving both our positive and negative inclinations. It all depends on whether man is controlling technology, or the other way around.

    In a seemingly unrelated passage in the Talmud (BT Avoda Zara 3b-4a) we find the following:

    Said Rabbi Shimon the son of Lakish: there is no Gehenom (lit. hell) in the future-to-come, but rather, the Holy One blessed be He unsheaths the sun and blackens [the eyes]-the righteous heal by it [the sun], the wicked shall be judged by it; as it says (Malachi 3:19): "For, behold, that day is coming; it burns like a furnace, and all the arrogant and all who do wickedly shall be stubble and the day that is coming shall burn them says the L-rd of Hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch" and the righteous heal by it as it says (Ibid, 3:20): "But to you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in its wings", and not only that but [the righteous] will advance because of it, as it says (Ibid): "and you shall go out and leap like calves from the stall".

    Applying the model that we have just described regarding technological advance and energy utilization, it is possible to say that 'unsheathing the sun' corresponds to the release and development of new energy forms nurturing the technological development of mankind. The 'wicked' can be thought of as those individuals who cannot use technology in a beneficial manner, while the 'righteous' are those who succeed in harnessing it in the service of good.

    Man's ability to control technology and modernization, and not be controlled by it, depends upon a clear definition of his ethical world. When one lives life with clear moral objectives, such as fulfilling the Divine commandments, technology becomes an important instrument for achieving those objectives and even bringing one closer to G-d. Conversely, if one lives a value-free life, pursuing technology for its own sake, he runs the risk of becoming dominated by the mechanistic forces that guide such development, to the extent of alienating himself entirely from G-d.


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